Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health honors rural health champions

Rural Health Hero of the Year Award

Penn State Abington MD Glenn Sterner received the 2022 Rural Health Hero of the Year award on November 14. Organizations to develop or expand a program that addresses an identified need and goes beyond the call of duty.

Sterner has been praised for his leadership and coordination among organizations across the state. In addition to being a champion and advocate for rural communities, his work on drug use, human trafficking, and various health issues has had a significant impact on rural Pennsylvania residents.

He uses an innovative approach to address multiple issues, secure funding, and has worked with state and local law enforcement to provide resources. Sterner is an influential advocate in multiple fields and consistently demonstrates his appreciation for rural health issues throughout Pennsylvania. In his current work, he assesses the impact of opioid settlement funding in Pennsylvania, with a focus on long-term stakeholder engagement to maximize the impact of opioid settlement funding in Pennsylvania communities.

Sterner founded the nonprofit organization Regional Interdisciplinary Cooperation to Combat Human Trafficking. He also works on an interdisciplinary team to increase access to prevention programs in rural counties through the Penn State PROmoting School-Community-University Partnerships to Enhance Resilience program, emphasizing the links between prevention and supply reduction initiatives in communities. Sterner developed the Story Powered Initiative to address stigma in communities due to discriminatory conditions, including drug use, human trafficking, hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS.

Rural Health Legislator of the Year Award

The 2022 Rural Health Legislator of the Year award was presented November 15 to Senator Elder Vogel Jr., serving in the 47th District of Beaver, Butler and Lawrence Counties. The Rural Health Legislator of the Year Award recognizes an outstanding Pennsylvania legislator for his work and support of rural health initiatives that address an identified need in their district or statewide.

Vogel was honored for recognizing and addressing the mental health needs of the farming community and for raising national and community awareness of this important issue. As a fourth-generation farmer, Vogel is fully aware of the importance of this issue and the missed calls for help. He continues to discuss, share helpful resources, and advocate for the farming community. Vogel is also a strong advocate for telemedicine for farming and rural communities. He sponsored legislation that defined telemedicine and created opportunities for rural areas to receive specialized care, including psychiatric services, without having to travel outside of the community.

State Rural Health Guide of the Year

The 2022 State Rural Health Leader of the Year Award was presented Nov. 15 to Denny Hutchison, Somerset County Farm Bureau member chair and past president and member of Somerset County’s Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Agricultural Promotion Committee. This award recognizes an outstanding leader who has organized, directed, developed or expanded an exemplary multidimensional state rural health program or initiative to benefit rural Pennsylvania.

Hutchison was recognized for his outstanding public relations work and nationwide appeal to support mental health needs in local farming communities. Hutchison was commended for his support in developing a crisis line and underwriting training focused on learning more about the stressors in the farming community, recognizing and helping someone in crisis, and developing mechanisms to relieve the stress to mitigate.

During COVID-19, Hutchison raised awareness in the Somerset County farming community, speaking about the rural stress and psychological toll farmers and their families are taking. He reached out to veterinarians, feed and equipment dealers and others dealing with farmers to alert them to warning signs of stress and depression. He is currently working with the PFB to raise awareness and make the treatment more accessible to Pennsylvania farmers.

Hutchison also serves as treasurer and board member of the Somerset County Chamber of Commerce, board member of the United Way of Laurel Highlands and serves on the Paint Township Planning Committee.

Rural Health Leader of the Year Award

The 2022 Rural Health Leader of the Year award was presented Nov. 17 to Norma Nocilla, Director of Clinical Operations and Quality at Wayne Memorial Community Health Centers in Honesdale. The Rural Health Leader of the Year Award recognizes an exemplary health program that addresses an identified need in a rural community using unique, creative and innovative approaches.

Nocilla was recognized for her extensive background in leadership, quality and performance improvement in healthcare. She has held various roles that have given her insight not only into the needs of her community but also into state and national affairs. Nocilla maintained oversight of the clinical integration of four major practice groups across eight locations and 17 providers, earning primary care medical house certification for all locations, putting patients at the center of care and building meaningful relationships between patients and clinical care teams . She shows concern and appreciation for her colleagues and recognizes the influential role they play in helping WMCHC provide exceptional service to the districts and organizations that the health center serves.

Rural Health Program of the Year Award

The East Lycoming Ambulance Association is one of the recipients of the 2022 Rural Health Program of the Year Award, presented November 17 in Hughesville. The Rural Health Program of the Year award recognizes an exemplary health program that addresses an identified need in a rural community using unique, creative and innovative approaches.

ELAA was honored for the cooperation of four volunteer fire brigades that has existed for more than 20 years. The fire companies staff a primary care ambulance seven days a week with paid paramedics responsible for 911 calls and vehicular accidents for 10 rural Pennsylvania communities.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, this organization has provided significant services to the area as the number of calls has increased greatly. Without these companies providing the services, many of these calls would have gone unanswered. The ELAA consists of the Hughesville Volunteer Fire Company, Muncy Area Volunteer Fire Company, Picture Rocks Volunteer Fire Company and Muncy Township Volunteer Fire Company. The association is funded entirely by the four firefighting companies, which pay the EMT wages and provide the equipment and building for the necessary services in rural Pennsylvania.

The Family Health Council of Central Pennsylvania and the Tapestry of Health organization’s SUN Smiles program for women, infants and children also received the 2022 Rural Health Program Award, presented November 17 at Shamokin Dam. SUN Smiles was commended for developing a comprehensive program that formed partnerships between FHCCP, Central Susquehanna Opportunities, Snyder-Union Community Action Agency and the Susquehanna River Valley Dental Health Clinic.

The program was designed to improve oral health outcomes for economically marginalized customers of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for WIC customers in Snyder, Union and Northumberland counties. All pregnant and postpartum women and children who are WIC customers are routinely screened for dental needs and referred to Community Health Workers as needed for assistance with Medicaid enrollment, scheduling appointments, transportation, payment for services and more.

In the first 11 months of the program, SUN Smiles screened 2,028 WIC clients and referred 700 clients to CHWs and 400 clients to dental treatments; 154 program customers received dental services on the website of FHCCP’s partner dental provider. In addition to nursing navigation, oral health education and fluoride varnish days at the WIC offices are key elements of the program.

Through the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health

PORH was formed in 1991 as a joint partnership between the federal government, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Penn State. The office is one of 50 state rural health agencies in the country and is tasked with being a source for coordination, technical support, networking and partnership development.

PORH offers expertise in rural health, community health, quality improvement, oral health and agricultural health and safety. PORH is administratively based in the Department of Health Policy and Administration of the College of Health and Human Development at Penn State University Park.

Each year, PORH makes awards to recognize rural health programs and individuals who have made a significant contribution to rural health in Pennsylvania. To learn more about the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health, visit